'It was alive back then' - Belstaff workers share memories of life at Longton and Silverdale factories

Caroline Street, Longton, in 1963/64 with Belstaff on the left. -Credit:Stoke-on-Trent City Archives / Bert Bentley
Caroline Street, Longton, in 1963/64 with Belstaff on the left. -Credit:Stoke-on-Trent City Archives / Bert Bentley

One-time Belstaff workers have been sharing their memories of life at the two former North Staffordshire factories as the popular Stoke-on-Trent clothing brand celebrates its centenary year.

Former staff look back at their time working at the long since closed Longton and Silverdale sites in a special new book 'Belstaff: Our First 100 Years'.

Written by Charlie Porter and edited by brand director Jodie Harrison, the book details the full history of the British legacy brand, tracking its development from industrial innovators in the north of England to the leaders in motorcycle and outdoor gear.

As well as the book, Belstaff is marking the milestone year by returning to its birthplace and taking over the Gladstone Pottery Museum for one weekend only on May 25 and 26. You can buy your tickets here.

READ MORE: A momentous occasion as Belstaff marks its first centenary The iconic brand is looking back on its success over the last 100 years'

READ MORE: Belstaff originated in Stoke-on-Trent, like me' - Explorer Levison Wood teams up with designer label to launch new jacket He's following in the footsteps of David Beckham

Here are some of the memories of its former staff in North Staffordshire:

Ann Hill (1957-60)

-Credit:Roo Lewis /Belstaff
-Credit:Roo Lewis /Belstaff

Ann, now aged 80, spent four years working in quality control at the Silverdale factory. She recalls: "I joined straight after school, at 15 years old. I couldn't get work on account of losing my hearing from meningitis aged six, but Belstaff gave me a job.

"I could hear a bit because I had this huge old hearing aid that would hang around me on a leather strap. One Christmas, without me knowing, the girls I worked with collected up their own money to buy me a modern, small hearing aid. I couldn't believe how kind they were."

Christine Capewell (1974-88)

-Credit:Roo Lewis /Belstaff
-Credit:Roo Lewis /Belstaff

Christine, now aged 65, was a sewing machinist at Longton who racked up 14 years of service. She remembers: "I was on the machine on the top floor, where the bosses' offices were. My sister Sandra and my twin sister, Pamela, also worked there. Longton was alive back then, even the town part. It's dead now. There's nothing here. It has lost so much."

She adds: "When I go anywhere, I go up to people: 'I like your jacket. I like that shirt'. They look at you funny. I say: 'It's all right - I used to work 'em'."

Kathleen Bishop (1970-87)

-Credit:Roo Lewis /Belstaff
-Credit:Roo Lewis /Belstaff

Kathleen, now aged 81, worked in quality control and inspection during 17 years at the Silverdale site. She fondly recalls: "All the products would come to my table in boxes. It was my job to tidy up any cotton ends. If there was anything wrong, we'd have to take it back to the machinist for fixing. It was mostly women on inspection. The men were mainly in the machine rooms. I liked it because of that. You could have a singsong and what have you. We sang every day."

She adds: "I was part-time but went full-time after the kids were in school. I did the late shift, though, because I like to make my beds. I didn't want to leave home until the house was tidy."

Dave Banks (1968-81)

-Credit:Roo Lewis /Belstaff
-Credit:Roo Lewis /Belstaff

The 72-year-old worked at Longton as a pattern cutter for 13 years. Dave said: "I worked at Belstaff during co-founder Harry Grosberg's time. He was absolutely beautiful, inside and out. Generous. Easy-going. I used to make all his skull caps for him. I met him for the first time when I was interviewed.

"I walked down towards his office and there was an old man sweeping the corridor. He stopped me and told me to 'wait a minute and Mr Grosberg will be along soon'. He then finished sweeping, rolled his sleeves back down and said: 'Right, come into my office'. It was him. That was how Belstaff worked. It was just 'get it done'."

He adds: "We did a lot of work for the Ministry of Defence back then. We used plastic studs and zips on jackets to stop them triggering bombs."

The book is based on extensive research by the authors and features previously unseen imagery, telling the full history of Belstaff for the first time. Eyewitness testimony comes from interviews with motorcycle legend Sammy Miller MBE and mountaineer Sir Chris Bonington, both past collaborators with Belstaff.

Iconic and highly collected archival pieces - such as a Trialmaster jacket worn by Steve McQueen in the late 1960s, and some of the world’s earliest surviving outerwear pieces from the early 1930s - are photographed in full detail.

Charlie Porter said: "This is a book founded on research, particularly in libraries, archives and private collections. It’s about bringing to light the hidden history of a brand, and the ways that specialist clothing became part of the fashion we all wear." Jodie Harrison, Belstaff brand director, added: "Re-curating Belstaff’s true history for the first time has been a total privilege for me.

"It’s not often you get to dig deep on the moments and developments that have combined to make a legacy brand like this. A lot has been said and written about Belstaff over the last 100 years, we just hope this book illustrates that there’s so much more that’s been unsaid until now."

Belstaff: Our First 100 Years is available in both a standard edition as well as a limited deluxe edition, which comes in a clamshell case and includes a hand-printed photograph by a regular contributor, Samuel Bradley.

Sign up to our main daily newsletter here and get all the latest news straight to your inbox for FREE